Word-of-Mouth, Quality Focus Keep Pricey Brand Thriving

Q&A With Bugaboo CMO Madeleen Klaasen

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Bugaboo is a brand synonymous with the good times, when spending $1000 on a stroller seemed like a reasonable investment. The products' distinctive design and branding have served for a decade as a badge for proud parents who want the world to know that their child was worth the best.

Bugaboo CMO Madeleen Klaasen
Bugaboo CMO Madeleen Klaasen
Revenues have been growing fast –- up to 72 million in 2008 from 43 million in 2005 (with 24% coming from North America) –- but the company predicts that growth for this year will slow to 3% at best. With the recession biting, consumers watching every penny and conspicuous consumption a thing of the past, can Bugaboo –- which celebrates its 10th anniversary on July 7th –- continue to thrive?

CMO Madeleen Klaasen surely faces a challenge to keep persuading people that a premium stroller, however well-designed, is an essential purchase.

Ad Age: How is the recession affecting Bugaboo, a company that makes baby strollers that cost upward of $1,000?

Ms. Klaasen: We've gone back to knowing who we are. Two years ago, we were growing so fast and everyone was copying us. It's awful, of course, what's happening, but it's given us a wake-up call and stopped us feeling rushed. We've gone back to being more focused. It's a more peaceful feeling; we just keep doing what we're good at. We want to keep sales at the same level as last year and that is what we're seeing, halfway through the year. We increased the price on the Cameleon, which didn't affect sales.

Ad Age: Have you changed your approach to marketing because of the recession?

Ms. Klaasen: We can stress that we are value for money, an investment for years to come. We hear that a lot from people -- the No. 1 reason to buy Bugaboo is product quality. In Amsterdam this weekend I saw a 10-year-old Bugaboo model -- it was the first one we launched -- still in use. We get nice stories from consumers: We had one from a woman whose Bugaboo has served two families and 10 different children. If you look at eBay, you can see that the secondhand market helps us. Customers can get quite a lot of money back if they don't need their Bugaboo any more, which is important in this period. Thank God the Bugaboo is lasting like we always said it would!

Ad Age: How is the relationship with 72 and Sunny?

Ms. Klaasen: They have been our global brand communication agency since the end of 2003. It's a very strategic partnership -- their strength is in developing sustainable initiatives. We work very closely with them. The strength of Bugaboo was and is word-of-mouth. New parents research strollers on the internet, go to retailers and ask their friends. Our products perform well. We rely on word-of-mouth and on retailers who can tell the performance story. We've made different choices in our advertising, and we use outdoor rather than print because our product is seen on the street. There are a lot of different angles to our marketing -- product launches, the design story, performance and the business story -- 72 and Sunny does all of that.

Ad Age: How important are online marketing and social networking to Bugaboo?

Ms. Klaasen: Social media and online are very powerful and important to us. Social media is basically what we've been doing from the beginning, relying on word-of-mouth, and we have started to formalize what's happened naturally -- we're working with 72 Degrees on social media. Four weeks ago we launched a Facebook page and already have 1,200 friends, and we are facilitating the forum to chat on our website. We're focusing social media on the U.S., the U.K. and Holland, where it's an easier decision. It's something new, and you have to ask if it's really helping.

Ad Age: Which are your biggest markets around the world? How do you approach marketing in different regions?

Ms. Klaasen:Mostly we have the same approach around the world with very subtle differences -- in Holland this year we are celebrating our 10th anniversary with a consumer event, which we will take to other countries next year.

Ad Age: What is the focus of new-product development at Bugaboo?

Ms. Klaasen: People are looking for safety and convenience. They want a lightweight compact design that is a carry-cot, a car seat and a stroller. We get a lot of requests for a double stroller, but we'll only do that if we can find a way to innovate.

Ad Age: Which are your biggest markets?

Ms. Klaasen: We don't give out market-share numbers. The U.S., U.K. and Spain are big markets, and Germany is growing fast. Our highest market share is in Holland. Australia is also doing well and Asia has a lot of potential -- we have a team working on a strategy for focusing on Asia right now -- but there is still lots of room for growth in the U.S. and [Europe, the Middle East and Asia].

Ad Age: What's keeping you up at night?

Ms. Klaasen: I always sleep well -- probably because I work too many hours! I'm not stressed. I feel in control and on top of the business. We know what we're doing. We have a daily "sense check" to make sure we are being true to ourselves. The recession has really been a wake-up call. It brings us back to who we are. There is so much happening in the company and it's all about creating stuff for the future. Knowing that there's lots of great stuff in front of us gives me a nice calm feeling -- we know we can make it. Of course, in January it was really weird for a few weeks seeing what was going on in the world. But this is who we are. We have to make sure we're authentic, to be certain that every choice complies with the Bugaboo DNA. Everyone here is very passionate and dedicated. It's important to avoid panic about what everyone else is doing.

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